Whites and Freedom

Essays in this section:
Overview Essay on Whites and Freedom
Plantation Owners and Apprenticeship: The Dawn of Emancipation
Missionaries in Jamaica during Emancipation
A Brief History of the Jamaican Jewish Communities of the Slavery and Emancipation Period

The word emancipation arouses powerful images within the mind of the critical reader. Frequently, people first think of the slaves of the southern United States, whose struggle has become a timeless theme. While the United States’ involvement in the chattel slavery system was of great importance in many historical respects, it certainly is equaled by the participation and practices of the colonial Caribbean Islands to the south.  Forced into centuries of labor on those islands, the enslaved Africans grew fortunes of money for the European empires.

Emancipation in the western world involved many more elements than are commonly assumed. It was an economic, social, racial, and spiritual upheaval with massive global and cultural implications. Emancipation not only involved correcting the major moral transgressions of the contemporary period, but also a restructuring of the lives of the millions of people involved. In America, Europe, and the Caribbean, a few whites rallied for the rights of blacks. Taken by Daguerreotype by A. DuperlyPeople of other cultures and religions could relate as they pressed for their own freedom within the white controlled lands. The broader views of the situation primarily portray the blacks as the beneficiaries of the new freedoms of the nineteenth century, but history shows that they were not alone. People of other races such as the Jews, mixed people called mulattos, and other ethnic and religious minorities shared in the miseries and victories of slavery.

With the arrival of freedom to the Caribbean, beginning in Haiti in 1791, change became an inevitable destiny of all the colonies. Change meant that whites would no longer dominate every aspect of their societies. For some, especially those who had profited from exploitation such as planters, this posed a threat. They turned their efforts to controlling the African populations through patronage systems and tough discriminatory laws. To others such as the Methodist and Baptist missionaries, who contributed in the emancipation effort, this presented an opportunity to assimilate and share. The new easing of the blacks’ workload allowed them to develop culturally and socially in a much more unrestricted manner.

Understanding the true scope of slavery is essential to the critical analysis of history. The reactions of whites in the emancipation era is important to understanding the effects, which still hamper our societies and institutions today. True emancipation lies in the educating of unknowing minds, and analyzing the great emancipations of the nineteenth century prepares us to be more understanding and worldly people.